Comparative Law in France – In the Shadow of the Code Civil

In France, comparative law had a difficult stand due to the publication of the Code Civil in 1804. Accordingly, in the first half of the 19th century, French jurists adopted a strictly positivist view, focusing entirely on the explicit wording of the Code Civil and its application. This system was very static and did not leave space for interpretation or development.

Towards the second half of the 19th century, Raymond Saleilles (1855-1912) worked hard to break the status quo. In his view, the Code Civil constituted a valuable source of law that unified the laws in France that existed at its time of inception. For Saleilles, however, the law did not stop there, but was subject to continuous evolutionary forces from society. Consequently, interpretation of the Code should not merely follow its explicit wording. Instead, Saleilles promoted a historical method of interpretation influenced by Savigny and considering comparative elements of law.

Saleilles’ vision for comparative law was universalist. He saw approximation or harmonization of laws as the ultimate goal of a comparative legal science. In this regard, he studied the legal development in late 19th century Germany that led to the German Civil Code in 1900. With his work, Saleilles managed to establish comparative law as an academic discipline. In 1901, a department for comparative (private) law is created at Paris University of which he became the first chair.


  • Daniel Mainguy, Bio des Juristes: Saleilles,
  • Nicolas Mathey, Le Code Civil et le Développement de Droit vu par Raymond Saleilles, in: 1804-2004. Le Code Civil. Un Passé. Un Présent. Un Avenir. (2004), p. 221.

One thought on “Comparative Law in France – In the Shadow of the Code Civil

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s